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Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

Redistricting: Include’Top Two’ Reforms

On November 4, 2008, California voters passed Proposition 11 thereby assuring independent redistricting of legislative districts beginning with the 2010 census (thus, applying to elections beginning in 2012). Independent redistricting will reduce the number of “safe seat” districts and provide an opportunity to elect more moderate candidates to the legislature which should result in more cooperation among legislators and less gridlock when voting on major issues including the annual state budget. Although independent redistricting will reduce the number of “safe seat” districts, it will not eliminate them. There will still be “safe” Democratic and “safe” Republican districts as well as “safe” incumbent districts due to other factors such as the uneven political demography of the state, and the advantages of money and name recognition. It has been estimated that the maximum number of competitive legislative districts possible in California as a result of any change in the manner that districts are drawn is about 20 Assembly and 5-8 Senate seats. Now that independent redistricting is assured, the next step toward the achievement of full competition in legislative races and the opportunity for more moderation is the adoption of an “Open Primary” nominating system. With an “Open Primary” candidates will need to have broad approval and will no longer be able to appeal only to the fringe of their parties. Additionally, parties will be more likely to nominate a candidate who will fit the district. Since the system will tend to eliminate one party control over a district, the party (previously having control) would be much less likely to nominate a party extremist in a district with a more moderate overall registration. In March 1996, California voters adopted an initiative (Proposition 198) that replaced the closed primary nominating system with a “Blanket Primary” (a form of “Open Primary”). Under the law, a voter of one political party was allowed to vote for candidates of another party in the primary. This law was in direct conflict with the rules of the political parties that provided that only the voters registered in a given party may participate in the selection of nominees of that party at the state primary. As a result, on June 26, 2000 the “Blanket Primary” law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court for violating the political parties’ First Amendment right of association. In November 2004, voters in the State of Washington approved an initiative establishing a “Top Two” system (another form of “Open Primary”) as state law. On March 18, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law. As in California, Washington’s previous “Blanket Primary” was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2000. Seeking to similarly block the “Top Two” system Washington’s major parties said it was their prerogative to choose who represents their organizations in general elections (by allowing only registered party members to cast primary ballots). In contrast to the “Blanket Primary” system, the “Top Two” rules allow candidates to self-identify party affiliations on ballots. They may describe themselves as Democrats or Republicans, even if they were not the chosen nominee of the party organizations. Defending the system, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna argued that there was no evidence the parties would be harmed, since they can use advertising and other means to indicate which candidates they endorse. Since Washington’s “Top Two” system was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, former state Senator Steve Peace (D-San Diego) is pushing to place a similar measure on the California ballot in 2010. Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book said that the passage of Proposition 11 “opened the gates to try to come up with further reforms.” I agree with Mr. Hoffenblum and with Steve Peace’s plan. I submit that the “Top Two” system should be at the top of the list of further reforms. Gregory N. Lippe, CPA, is Managing Partner of the Woodland Hills-based CPA Firm of Lippe, Hellie, Hoffer & Allison, LLP, Chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) and a Director of First Commerce Bank.

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